Plan Your Own Death and Funeral

Making plans for your dying and your funeral is a chore easily postponed.

But as the years go by and increasing physical decrepitude makes it clear that you are not, after all, going to be the first person in history somehow to duck under the radar of the Grim Reaper, it feels more and more acceptable, even desirable, to make plans. Decrepitude is nature’s way of reconciling us with the inevitable. Dementia may or may not be nature’s way of taking our mind off it.

Whatever your state of decrepitude, remember this: the customary warning signs of impending death do not always apply. Pathologists will tell you that they spend their lives delving into the interiors of people who thought they’d be going home that very day, as every day.

Death often predates decrepitude. It is only an embolism away.

If you’re going to sit down and plan your funeral, it makes sense, at the same time, to make plans for the process which leads up to it: your dying.

Die prepared

Dying for most of us is going to be not a sudden event but a lengthy process. One of the dubious benefits of modern medicine is that it has greatly extended that process. The job of doctors is to prolong life and they can easily, understandably, confuse this with prolonging the act of dying. Instead of letting us be borne out gently on the tide, they may instead launch a series of desperate, intrusive rearguard actions to stave off the inevitable.

You can prevent this – up to a point.

Your end-of-life plan needs to deal in detail with the following:

  1. the disposal of your money and your things plus final instructions and directions to those who will have to settle your affairs when you’re dead. This is often called putting your affairs in order
  2. how you are looked after in your last days
  3. who will speak and act for you when you can no longer do so for yourself
  4. where you die
  5. the way you die
  6. whether or not your organs are recycled
  7. how your dead body will be cared for or to whom it will be donated
  8. how your dead body will be disposed of (burial or cremation)
  9. who you would like to be told that you are dead
  10. your funeral ceremony
  11. the party afterwards

A plan like this spans several separate professional domains, each of which is colonised by its own specialists – solicitors, will writers, financial advisers, medics, undertakers, celebrants and caterers – all of whom mind their own business.

The only person who can join them all up is you.

When death seems to be the hardest word…

In communities where cultural or religious traditions are strong, people don’t worry about their funeral. They know that, when the time comes, those closest to them will know what to do; custom and duty will see to it that things are done properly. This eliminates choice, but it also eliminates faffing.

In communities where traditions have been left behind, dying people have no such assurance. When death happens, unless they have been told, those closest to them won’t necessarily have a clue what to do.

If those closest to you do not know how you want to be cared for you as you lie dying and, afterwards, how you would like your dead body to be cared for and disposed of, you will need to tell them.

And your problem may well be that, when you try to do so, you will walk into a storm of protest. We live in death denying times.

Where death is not reckoned to be the boarding pass to eternal life, talk of it is unwelcome. While people of much faith stride confidently into that good night, those of little faith or none at all tend to put their hands over their eyes and reveal a morass of squirming superstitions. Talking about death is reckoned morbid; worse, it’s likely to bring it on.

One of the reasons why people don’t talk about death is that no one will listen.

We need to talk

However reluctant they are, you will need to try to talk to those closest to you about how you would like to make your exit because, if you want them to be your advocates, you’ll need their active involvement. Tell them that if they truly love you they will listen. Tell them that, when you can no longer speak for yourself, you will urgently need them to be there to speak and act for you.

In the face of any initial reluctance you need to be persuasive because you need their agreement. You need to negotiate face to face in order to reach an understanding. You need to listen and, perhaps, give ground.

You should resist temptation to issue instructions or resort to emotional blackmail. Agreements extorted under duress may not be honoured – and you will be in no position to protest.

Your goal is to engage willing collaboration.

Talking about your death is likely to upset those you talk to. It may well upset you, too. But when you have done it, you are all likely to feel that sense of relief which comes with having dealt with an unspoken dread.

When the time comes, those closest to you will be informed, prepared and empowered. They will be able to be useful, and they’ll like that.

If you can’t find anyone who will listen, you have no alternative but to write down what you want and hope that someone will act on it.

You will be able to transmit your care wishes through a living will and these will be respected.

You will be probably able to exert a degree of influence over your funeral, especially if you buy a pre-paid funeral plan. You should think very carefully before you buy any such plan, or whole-life insurance. Read this article in the Daily Mail

Logging off. Online passwords and digital demise

You’ll need to leave instructions about your online accounts so that they can be terminated. What are they? What are the passwords? This is the sort of information you don’t want to write down and store somewhere at home where a careful burglar may find it. Better by far to store it all… yes, online. Deathswitch is a good place to do this.

There’s a good article about this important subject here.

If you’d like to send posthumous messages via your social media accounts, you can arrange that, free, at DeadSoci.al.

Getting it together

It makes good sense to keep all your end-of-life paperwork together. One way of doing this is to keep it in a special box — one you can point to and say, “It’s all in there!” A particularly good sort of box is a memory box. After your death it can be recycled and used by those left behind for its original purpose: to store photos and mementos and knick-knacks which remind them of you.

You can use an old shoe box. Or you can go upmarket. Google ‘memory box’ and you will find there’s lots of choice. The classiest one, in our opinion, is the memory box made by Memory Button made in the Devon village of Newton Poppleford. They’re beautifully made with proper dovetail joints, and in the lid you can have, inset, a ceramic bas relief portrait of yourself. These ceramic medallions look better in life, we reckon, than they do in the photos — really classy. Price: £395. Expensive? Perhaps, but excellent value all the same.

Do it online

Alternatively, you can create and store your final instructions and wishes online. There are a number of sites that offer this and, because this is a new thing, you’ll need to reassure yourself that the site isn’t going to go bust and sink with all your stuff on board. Two sites we like are MyLastSong and Final Fling — intelligently run and reassuringly based in the UK.

Leave a visual record

The brilliant RecordMeNow charity offers free downloadable software that enables you, using the little camera in your computer screen, to record onto a CD your thoughts about your life, and other things besides, for your children, partner, family. The creators especially had children in mind, because children can go through life with all sorts of unresolved questions about a dead parent — but it works for everyone.

There is a very full and detailed guide to drawing up an end of life plan the Good Funeral Guide. Order your copy here.